Monday, May 30, 2011

Memories of Mark Davis

Joakim Soria's struggles this year bring to mind the disastrous Mark Davis era. But first, it's remarkable how similar Davis's 1988 and 1989 seasons were to Soria's 2009 and 2010.

Davis 88/89 9 13 1.93 132 72 10 191.0 73 194 181 1.094 3.4 9.1
Soria 09/10 4 4 1.97 113 73 6 118.2 32 140 218 1.087 2.4 10.6

Davis pitched more innings resulting in a higher WAR (7.7 to 6.4), but essentially they were the same seasons. Their OBP-against those two years also were in line with each other, .277 for Davis, .273 for Soria. They both made the All Star game both seasons, so before their respective meltdowns they had each established a track record of excellence.

Davis, in fact, won the Cy Young award in 1989 with the Padres and when he signed with Kansas City on December 11, 1989 the Royals became the first team to possess both reigning CYA winners. (Bret Saberhagen won the AL award, but you knew that.) While the signing excited the fan base, it was also completely unnecessary. Jeff Montgomery saved 18 games with a 1.37 ERA in 1989 and was more than capable of handling the role. But this was the offseason of let's get Mr. Kauffman one more championship so Davis was brought in to close and Storm Davis was added to the rotation (a disaster of its own).

Opening day arrived and there was a fair amount of enthusiasm surrounding the team as they were one of the favorites in the West. But then Sam Horn happened and the team seemingly never recovered. For those not familiar with the reference I'll explain - in the bottom of the 8th inning left handed hitting Sam Horn came to the plate representing the tying run, but rather than bring in his shiny new left handed closer, manager John Wathan elected to let right-hander Steve Farr pitch to Horn. Horn homered and the Royals eventually lost the game in 11 innings.

It was a questionable decision in real time because back then a closer routinely entered the game before the 9th inning. Many still point to that at bat as the moment the franchise began its downward turn, that is of course nonsense but also hard to argue against. If the game had any effect on Davis though, it didn't immediately manifest itself. He only allowed 1 baserunner in his first 4 appearances and was 3/3 in saves. But then things started going south.

In a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on April 21st he gave up his first run when he walked 2 and gave up 2 hits in a single inning of work. The next day he walked 2 more and allowed 1 hit in a 7-1 win. On April 27th he blew his first save when he gave up 4 runs in the 9th inning. He blew 2 more saves the first week of May but then had a couple decent outings. He blew another save May 11th and two days later lost the closer job to Montgomery. Though Wathan said Davis and Montgomery would be flip flopped it never happened. Montgomery took the job all the way to the Royals Hall of Fame. When he was replaced in favor of Montogmery he had a 7.24 ERA and was 5/9 in save opportunities.

Davis rebounded a bit in middle relief (4.58 ERA) but was never trusted with the closers role again. Eventually they tried him in the rotation (like many are suggesting with Soria) but that worked out about as well as expected. Two years later he was traded to the Braves for Juan Berenguer bringing his Royals career to an end. The final damage was a 76 ERA+ in 167.2 innings and a hard lesson in the unpredictability of closers.

Soria has a 6.55 ERA and is 7/12 in opportunities. Today he was replaced by Aaron Crow, who could become the Montgomery to Soria's Davis. If Crow is successful it's hard to imagine him moving back to his setup role but it could happen I guess. Though Davis is a good comp at the moment I have to believe, that unlike Davis, Soria will eventually recover. And though he may never be an elite closer again, he'll at least be effective, especially if it turns out he he has been pitching with an injury.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hey, the Royals have a leadoff hitter

Continuing his development into the next David DeJesus, Alex Gordon has really taken to the leadoff spot. He has hit .293/.356/.610 since being inserted in the top of the lineup, with most of the damage coming in the last 5 games (.346/.370/.846, 4 doubles, 3 home runs).

When May hit Gordon went into a slump, his first 18 games this month he had an Escobar-like .539 OPS with zero multi-hit games. The feeling that he was reverting to the 2010 version of himself was starting gain momentum. But he's quieted those fears in the last week with 4 multi-hit games. 

The first inning of every game has become must see tv with Gordon and Eric Hosmer guaranteed to get a plate appearance. Even Melky Cabrera has come on as of late, since my post suggesting he move down in the order he's put together a .355/.364/.581 line. I guess he just needed some negative reinforcement. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

A conversation with Denny Trease

Back in the 1980's Denny Trease did the play by play on the Royals television broadcast, and he eventually would team with Paul Splittorff to form, in my opinion, an on air duo that has never been matched. Denny's smooth game calling coupled with Splitt's analysis made for the perfect combination. I have yet to meet anybody who didn't believe that the Denny/Splitt wasn't among the best in the business.

After Splitt passed away Wednesday I talked to Denny on the phone about his friend and former co-worker. The circumstances were certainly somber, but I had always wanted to speak with him, so before our trip down memory lane, I took the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed and miss his work in the booth.

"I do miss it myself," he said, "there were just some great memories. My timing was perfect, I started the same year they won the pennant for the first time."

When Splitt joined him in the booth it became apparent right away that he was a natural. It was, I believe, one of the smoothest player-to-booth transitions in recent history.

"I hoped I was able to help him that regard, he had so much dedication and commitment to get all that he could out of the talent he had, and I think really succeeded, as a player and a broadcaster. He took what the good Lord gave him and made the most of it.

I always admired his nerve, his bravery to say what people always didn't want to hear. He called it the way he saw and I think not everybody would've been able to get away with that. Everybody - coaches, players, fans - had so much respect for Splitt that if he said it, it was ok. They weren't going to hold his feet to the fire, they knew if he was criticizing them, he had reason to criticize."

When it came to Splitt the pitcher, I mentioned how amazing it was to me how successful he was despite not having overpowering stuff. Though he didn't get to see Splitt in his prime, Denny agreed with that sentiment. I brought up how in 1978 he won 19 games despite a 2.6 SO/9. In todays game a pitcher would be lucky to win 19 career games with so few strikeouts.

"That's incredible to me that he's still the winningest pitcher in the organization, it tells what you can do, for one thing, with intelligence. He was such an intelligent guy and he transferred that into his broadcast work too, but as a pitcher, he just outsmarted so many hitters. 

I didn't really get to see him at his best, his career was already at a downward trend by the time I got there but I still saw him pitch some very good games and, again, show what intelligence can do. But I didn't get to see him at his absolute best."

The Royals also had Larry Gura in the rotation, another successful left-hander with a low strikeout rate (3.3). He could accurately be described as Splitt's soft tossing partner in crime. Unlike Splitt, Gura at least had an out pitch.

"We used to call Larry Gura 'Slider', because he had a very good slider but Splitt, you know his stuff wasn't overpowering and any one pitch wasn't great but he knew how to set up hitters and work them in and out and expand the strike zone. They'd get eager and overeager and he'd take advantage of everything he could."

When Splitt became his broadcast partner, Denny watched how the intelligence shown on the mound also manifested itself in the booth.

"I think he taught a lot of baseball to fans in Kansas City, I think it's a good baseball town and the people know their sport, but I think Splitt educated them even more.

He also had a good sense of humor, we just really enjoyed working those games and he was committed to doing them right and was also committed to having fun. He realized it was a game we were describing and it was supposed to be fun." 

Denny never forgot how, right off the bat, Splitt served notice that he was going to take his color commentary responsibilities seriously.

"I still remember they sent us to spring training to work together before that first year, when he was going to take over as the analyst and I was going to do more of the play by play. I'll just never forget how dedicated he was down there, I think he worked harder than he did in any spring training as a player even. Because he wanted to make sure he got it right and he kept asking me over and over again, 'Am I doing this right? Am I doing that right?', he was just so dedicated. Too many guys in this profession lack that same kind of commitment. They just think 'Well you know, I was a player, people will buy whatever I say because I played'. Splitt wasn't going to do it that way."

Splittorff's pitching resume will never be forgotten, and in the current baseball climate, his club record 166 wins will likely never be broken. Denny believes Splitt left a similar legacy in the booth.

"Sometimes it's just speaking the truth, and people will not forget it."

Via email, Denny shared some of what he's done since leaving KC:
I returned here to Lexington, Kentucky in 1999 and switched from sports to news as a reporter and anchor at the CBS affiliate, WKYT.  I was fortunate enough to win a couple of Emmys in television news, but I retired in December of 09 and have been taking life easy since then.  I do some volunteer work for a homeless shelter called the Lexington Rescue Mission, and I play a lot of golf now, whenever the weather co-operates.  We have two grandchildren who live in Colorado so naturally we try to make trips out there whenever we can get away.  

Former New York Times columnist Murray Chass also was kind enough to share a memory of one of Splittorff's most important starts. I know Murray has a certain reputation in the blogging community but it's worth noting that in his emails to me, I found him to be polite, informative, and funny. 

I can't say I knew Splittorff; the only time I talked to him, as I remember, was after or before a game he was pitching. However, he did figure in one of the epic Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson episodes as well as the worst case of overmanaging I probably ever saw.

Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS, and Martin says Jackson's not playing because he can't hit Splittorff.  .
Catfish Hunter who had played with Jackson in Oakland, confirmed that, telling reporters, "Reggie can't hit Splittorff with a paddle."

Jackson, however, pinch hit in the eighth inning after Doug Bird replaced Split and singled home the tying run. The Yankees went on to score three runs in the ninth as Herzog feverishly changed pitchers--Mingori to Leonard to Gura to Littell.-- and won, 5-3.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times put together a list of notables games Splitt appeared in, as well "as his best/worst/most noteworthy achievements, and some oddball games/moments he happened to be on hand for, even if he had nothing to do with what made that game worthy of note. Hey, they’re all games he appeared in."

It's definitely a must read for Royals fans.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paul Splittorff 1946-2011

The KC Star is reporting that the Royals Hall of Famer has passed away.

I'm of course old enough to remember his pitching career, which means he's been a part of every summer of my life, on the field and later in the booth. If you never got to see him play then I feel for you, because he was a joy to watch.

Rest in peace Splitt, and thanks for the memories.

1970 23 0 1 7.27 1 8.2 5 10 54 2.423 16.6 5.2 10.4
1971 24 8 9 2.68 22 144.1 35 80 128 1.136 8.0 2.2 5.0
1972 25 12 12 3.13 33 216.0 67 140 97 1.185 7.9 2.8 5.8
1973 26 20 11 3.98 38 262.0 78 110 102 1.363 9.6 2.7 3.8
1974 27 13 19 4.10 36 226.0 75 90 93 1.447 10.0 3.0 3.6
1975 28 9 10 3.17 23 159.0 56 76 122 1.333 8.8 3.2 4.3
1976 29 11 8 3.97 23 158.2 59 59 89 1.437 9.6 3.3 3.3
1977 30 16 6 3.69 37 229.0 83 99 110 1.424 9.6 3.3 3.9
1978 31 19 13 3.40 38 262.0 60 76 113 1.160 8.4 2.1 2.6
1979 32 15 17 4.24 35 240.0 77 77 101 1.354 9.3 2.9 2.9
1980 33 14 11 4.15 33 204.0 43 53 98 1.368 10.4 1.9 2.3
1981 34 5 5 4.36 15 99.0 23 48 83 1.354 10.1 2.1 4.4
1982 35 10 10 4.28 28 162.0 57 74 96 1.377 9.2 3.2 4.1
1983 36 13 8 3.63 27 156.0 52 61 112 1.353 9.2 3.0 3.5
1984 37 1 3 7.71 3 28.0 10 4 53 2.036 15.1 3.2 1.3
15 Seasons 166 143 3.81 392 2554.2 780 1057 101 1.340 9.3 2.7 3.7
162 Game Avg. 14 12 3.81 32 212 65 88 101 1.340 9.3 2.7 3.7

Second Guessing

When the 9th inning rolled around last night, Ned Yost had a couple options on who to send out to the mound to record the final three outs, Joakim Soria and Aaron Crow.

In a world devoid of bullpen roles and the overrated save stat, Crow would've likely pitched the final inning. If Yost had stayed with Crow, win or lose, he likely wouldn't have been second guessed. That's because Crow has been dominant all year, and Soria has not. Soria has a career high BB/9 (4.7) and a career low SO/9 (6.1), he has not looked anything like the guy we've grown spoiled watching. I don't know if he's hurt or what, but coming off a rough homestand, KC was in desperate need of a win and with his control issues, Soria probably wasn't the right guy for the 9th inning.

But Yost sent him out there anyway, and with a little help from Wilson Betemit, he gave up 3 runs to lose the game. Another way to look at it, he gave up more runs last night than Crow has given up all year (2).

I'm not campaigning for Crow to be installed as closer because we know what that will mean, he'll only pitch in save situations and tied games. I'd just like to see Yost be a little unconventional, go with the hot hand, so to speak. At least until Soria gets his mojo back, then I'd like to see Crow in the rotation, but that's a post for another day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Time to move Melky down

There is plenty of blame to go around for last nights 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers, 13 walks issued by the pitching staff and 2 KC baserunners getting picked off for starters, but despite all that they had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th inning. Melky Cabrera came up with the bases loaded and one out and proceeded to pop out to the shortstop. The next batter, Eric Hosmer, flied out. Inning and threat over.

I applaud Ned Yost for shaking up the batting order by inserting Alex Gordon into the leadoff spot (hopefully he keeps him there but it wouldn't surprise me if Chris Getz is back atop the lineup tonight). It was outside the box thinking and it reminded me of how the California Angels would bat Brian Downing leadoff. Downing wasn't your typical 1980's leadoff hitter, in that he wasn't very fast, but he had some pop and he excelled at the one thing a leadoff hitter should do best, getting on base. So while I admire Yost for pulling the trigger on that move, I'd actually like to see him shake things up further, by moving Cabrera down in the lineup.

Cabrera, thanks to a career high .449 slugging percentage, has been perfectly acceptable this year. In fact, he's been much better than I ever thought he would, but his .305 OBP in the #2 spot is hurting the offense. I won't get into the debate on whether Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco were actually better CF options this year because what's done is done. Blanco is gone and Maier most likely soon will be, besides we all know that Cabrera is just keeping CF warm for Lorenzo Cain anyway.

The stat that jump out at me is this, in 39 games he's reached base via a hit or walk just 9 times in the first inning, his line of .189/.231/.189 pretty much means he's an automatic out. Someone like Wilson Betemit and his .386 OBP would play much better in front of the 3-4-5 hitters. Plus, he may have got the fly ball that would've won last nights game.

Here's the lineup I would like to see on a daily basis:

Danny Duffy was wild last night in his major league debut but I seen enough in just 4 innings to make this prediction: the team record for strikeouts in a season by a LHP will fall next year. That record has stood since their inaugural season of 1969 when Bill Butler struck out 156. Since then only five other southpaws have struck out at even 140.

Rk Player SO Year IP ERA+
1 Bill Butler 156 1969 193.2 94
2 Danny Jackson 152 1987 224.0 114
3 Charlie Leibrandt 151 1987 240.1 134
4 Jose Rosado 141 1999 208.0 130
5 Buddy Black 140 1984 257.0 130
6 Paul Splittorff 140 1972 216.0 97
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

Between Duffy, Mike Montgomery, and John Lamb I believe that top 6 is going to look a lot different in a few years.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

And yet....

Well that was ugly, and yet despite the 19-1 drubbing the Royals are still at .500 (20-20) and only 6 games back. A win tonight could somewhat ease the sting of Mazzaro's meltdown, not to mention move the boys in blue to just 5 back of the Indians. All is definitely not lost. The last five times the Indians scored 19+ in a game, they lost the next day. So yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

However, the offense is getting to be as big a mess as the rotation is right now. They've scored 2 runs or less in 6 of their last 9 games, they're hitting .198/.285/.321 in those 9 games, and included in that is a 16 hit, 11 run performance against the Yankees. There doesn't seem to be an easy fix here either, not when 4 or 5 guys every night have OBPs under .310. 

I'm not sure if Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Montgomery, and Danny Duffy* can right this ship but I have a feeling we are going to find out real soon.

*Update - And Duffy has in fact been called up, he will start tomorrow against the Rangers. You have to admit, this season just got a  little more interesting. 

Here is his numbers for Omaha this season.

2011 3 1 3.00 7 36.0 10 43 1.111 7.5 2.5 10.8 4.30

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The 5 most despicable Yankees ever

Last night with the bases loaded and 1 out in the 7th inning, Yost let both Escobar and Getz bat, both struck out. I'm pretty sure a contending team's manager would've had Betemit pinch hit for one of them, Yost didn't do that. Just saying.

One of the advantages of being my age is I can remember the Royals glory years, well most of them, 1976 is a little fuzzy. And of course to remember the glory years is to remember the rivalry with the Yankees, a rivalry that lost its luster in the 1980's when the Yankees became less interesting, and completely died out in the 1990's when the Royals began their era of futility.

Like any good rivalry there was a healthy dose of animosity on both sides, among the players and of course among the fans. So it was only natural that I would grow to despise any player that would wear the pinstripes. And despise them I did, mostly because they defeated the Royals in the playoffs three straight years, and partly because they made Freddie Patek cry.

So today I present to you the 5 most despicable Yankees ever. It was pretty tough narrowing it down to just 5, it was kind of like picking my favorite Seinfeld episodes, in that there were a lot of worthy candidates.

5. Bucky Dent
Patek was my favorite player so naturally Dent, as the Yankees shortstop, would be a guy I would detest. Also I didn't like his nickname, Bucky. That's the nickname of the annoying neighborhood kid who gets on everybody's last nerve, every street has that kid (if yours don't then I hate to tell you this, but, your kid is that kid). That he would later manage the Yankees didn't exactly help his case any either.

4. Rich Gossage
Goose always looked like he was in a bad mood, that just rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. And he was ugly. He had a 179 ERA+ as a Yankee so he was also quite good, although the Royals did have his number in the ALCS (4.1 innings, 4 earned runs).

3. Reggie Jackson
I'm not sure what the qualifications are for True Yankees but I suspect Jackson didn't meet the criteria. He was arrogant and a showman, traits that I found boorish. However, when he was reincarnated as a California Angel I learned to like his attitude, and even found him slightly endearing. Must have been the pinstripes clouding my earlier judgement.

2. Billy Martin
I don't know what was worse, his predilection for arguing every call that went the opposing teams way, or his tendency to over-manage in a way that made Tony LaRussa jealous. There was also the matter of his unnatural reaction to excessive pine tar. It's hard to be mad at him for that though, as that did inspire the funniest sketch ever made by The Baseball Bunch.

1. Don Mattingly
Mattingly had a pretty good season in 1985. He walked away with the MVP award that should've went to George Brett and he got away with a drunken display of public urination, in Kansas City of all places. He was married to this though, so... well, I'll just leave it at that.

Honorable Mention:
Every Yankee not named Lou Gehrig or Tommy John.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's always sunny in Kansas City

A couple of commenters more or less called me out for the decidedly negative tone this blog has taken lately, and I gotta say, they're absolutely right. I was actually thinking about this before I read their comments and had already planned something on the positive side for today. I'm going to readdress some recent topics, but this time though, I'll be coming from a different angle. There's also some things I haven't touched on yet but probably should have.

Hosmer's debut

Even though I never posted anything regarding Eric Hosmer's debut weekend, I did enjoy it. He just looks like a major league hitter, and truth be told, the club is better with his bat and glove in the lineup. And just to be clear, my dissatisfaction with his promotion had little or nothing to do with him. But now that he's here, it's clear that every plate appearance is an event not to be missed. A .333/.500/.444 line in the weekend series shows that he didn't get overmatched by the A's very talented pitching staff. When I was younger it seemed like everything stopped when George Brett strode to the plate, nothing else mattered until his plate appearance was over. I think it's going to be like that with Hosmer, heck, it already is.

Francoeur's hot start

I posted last week that if Jeff Francoeur's OPS was north of .800 on June 1st then I might start coming around. Well it's not June 1st obviously, but I did come across something interesting. His .926 OPS right now is the highest it's ever been on any May 9th in his career. That may seem insignificant but remember May has typically been a bad month for him. That he's maintained his pace this far into May has to be encouraging, to doubters and non-doubters alike. Here's a chart featuring his OPS on May 9th during every year of his career (excluding his rookie year, he didn't get called up until July).

What rotation issues?

Ok maybe that's too positive but still, the Royals have played 7 games in May and the starting pitchers have thrown a quality start in 6 of them. Sean O'Sullivan has been surprisingly effective and, in his last start, went 8 innings for the first time in his career. I'd suggested his start is not sustainable but truth be told, I didn't think it was even possible, and he just keeps proving me wrong.

Gordon is who I thought he was

Well long time readers know two things about me - 1) On base percentage is my favorite stat and 2) I've never stopped believing in Alex Gordon. The sample size continues to get larger and he continues to hit (150 PAs, 144 OPS+, AL leading 13 doubles). His doubters, unlike Francoeur's, have been rather quiet this year. That's fine, welcome to the bandwagon, you know who you are.


The next 13 games (6 away, 7 home)  are against the Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Cardinals. If they're around .500 after that stretch then I'll take Ned's claim more seriously. Sorry, that's the best I can do.

Chris Getz

Getz shares a birthday with a guy who played on the Royals first World Series team, Dave Chalk. That's all I got. Maybe I better stop here while I'm ahead.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Predictable Ned

Billy Butler .847 OPS, Mike Aviles .844 OPS, Wilson Betemit .822 OPS, Chris Getz .592 OPS

One of these players is not like the others, yet that one, Getz, is the only one of the four to start each of the last 2 games. One of the reasons Ned Yost used in justifying Kila's demotion was that, being in contention, they needed more production out of his position. Okay fair enough, what's done is done, Eric Hosmer is off to a great start (.944 OPS) and looks like he's going to provide that bump in production (for more of my thoughts on Hosmer/Kila, check out this piece I wrote for the St. Joseph News Press). But that explanation raised a couple questions.......

My first question is, why isn't the contention argument being applied to Getz? And my second question is, if he was acquired by Allard Baird would he still be on the roster?

Seriously, there's absolutely no reason why he should be starting with Aviles and Betemit swinging the bat so well. None. Yost is intentionally making the offense weaker for reasons that I can't quite comprehend. Replacing Getz's bat doesn't even require a roster move, sure it makes the bench worse, but that's hardly a reason to start him. This year isn't an anomaly either, Aviles and Betemit are just better major league hitters and their numbers prove it.

  • Getz - .249/.314/.315 (793 PAs)
  • Aviles - .295/.325/.432 (1120 PAs)
  • Betemit - .268/.336/..448 (1697 PAs)
I said Friday that I didn't believe Kila's demotion had anything to do with contending, not with the rotation being a mess, and I still believe that. With each Getz start, I believe it even more. The double standard and hypocrisy that exists regarding the lack of production by Kila and Getz is truly disappointing.

Gregor Blanco was traded to the Nationals for that popular PBTNL guy (he really gets around). This was really inevitable, especially after Jarrod Dyson beat him out for a spot on the 25 man roster. With Cain being the logical next outfielder promoted there was simply no spot for Blanco in Kansas City. I gotta believe a guy with on-base skills (.358 OBP) and speed will find his way back in the major leagues.

I attended the Omaha/Oklahoma City game last night and three players made definite impressions. 
  1. Lorenzo Cain - He had two doubles and a sensational diving catch in center field. I can see why people use Mike Cameron as a comp. His doubles weren't bloopers down the line, they were line drives that one hopped the wall in left-center field. I can't wait to watch this guy in Kansas City. 
  2. Mike Moustakas - Moustakas was hit by a pitch, walked, and hammered a pitch down the line that banged off the right field foul pole for a home run. He also flied out to deep center field. I've seen him play before but this was the first time I got to see the Moustakas I've read about. It was fun to watch.
  3. Clint Robinson - The clamoring for Robinson has subsided since the Hosmer promotion and last nights performance possibly showed why he didn't get a look first in Kansas City. I've never seen a player have a worse game in my life. He went 0/4 with 4 strikeouts, 3 swinging on pitches out of the strike zone and the 4th one standing. He looked absolutely lost. Now one game is, of course, a terrible sample size but there's a reason the free Clint movement never picked up any steam, he's just not as as good as his numbers suggest. When a player is largely dismissed by his organization and the stathead elite (I use that term affectionately, don't hate) he doesn't stand a chance.